Incontro Romano 2014

The Power of Service: Making Tangible the Intangible 

ROME, Italy. Tuesday, April 15th

This past Tuesday, April 15th, at the Frentani Congress Center in downtown Rome , students from all over the world gathered for the 24th annual Incontro Romano Congress. This year's topic, The Power of Service: Making Tangible What Is Intangible, inspired a diverse selection of papers, videos, and stands hailing from various cities of Spain, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Jerusalem, France, Ireland, Holland, Portugal, and the United States. In the morning, those who submitted projects to the Congress delivered short presentations about their work. From conceptual  "big-picture" reflections on the theme to its more specific application in the realms of fashion, medicine, communication, hotel management - and even Chinese opera! - it was clear that the girls had set their minds to the task of understanding at a deeper level what it means to "make tangible the intangible" and how, in this way, service can be something powerful in the best sense of the term. 

A common theme among the various projects consisted in recognizing, on the one hand, the kind of positive and transformative power that service has on the individual who serves. Students from the Sulayr Center in Grenada argued in their paper "The Intangible Revolution" that "serving - and, specifically, caring for others - enriches and improves people." They proposed that it is the youth of society who have the power to provoke this positive "revolution" of authentic service, starting by first becoming themselves persons truly capable of taking care of others.  On a related note, in their paper entitled "The Meaning of Service in 2014", students from France highlighted a similar dimension of the theme, claiming that, "To make the invisible visible, one has to serve with a particular interior disposition... In our professional practice of hospitality, we try to be more aware of knowing how to be - that is, giving attention to other people." Girls from Macao agreed with this, proposing in the paper "The Power of Serving: Good Training Makes a Difference" that service professionals need to be adequately trained, always with an eye toward the dignity, greatness, and power that their work possesses. Meanwhile, students from Pamplona, in their paper "Wake Up and Smell the Coffee", identified ways in which gastronomy also has powers that go beyond the immediate visible results of food preparation, such as helping others learn how to better engage with those around them, use their time well, and create memories and shared experiences that are, essentially, the foundations upon which culture is built. 

Speaking of culture, several girls from Jerusalem presented a stand called "The Welcoming Tradition" in which they shared with the crowd a special Holy Land tradition, passed down through the generations, which is based on the ideal "my home is your home." They said that this year's Incontro theme helped them reflect on their own culture's traditions, and to take care that these positive ideals remain vibrant among their Palestinian peers. Similarly looking to promote the ideal of service in culture, girls from Ireland and the United States shared exciting details about initiatives going on in their respective countries that aim at promoting the work of the home - service in the most fundamental sense of caring for the basic needs of the human person. Coming from a more historical perspective, the group from Switzerland used the success story of the well-known Birchermüesli (i.e. Müesli) to show how one small business managed to help promote wholistic nutrition around the world.  

Another idea common to many of the papers, videos and stands was that service professions, while possessing a real potential to make the world a better place, are significantly undervalued in modern culture. The award for Best Paper went to a work that responded to this problem with an alternative perspective on this kind of profession. Written by another group of students from Macao, "The Power of Serving: Convert Intangible to Tangible" highlighted the accomplishments of those working in the hospitality industry in Macao, showing that these types of jobs often bring out the best in the people who do them. As they put it, "Intangible means something cannot be touched and is not perceptible, like service. Service cannot be touched. It doesn't need many material conditions or support, because it is based on the server's professional attitude and passionate heart. Although service is something intangible, it can be 'felt' by guests." They also suggested ways in which the value of service professions could increase in the eyes of society. 

The prize for Best Video was awarded to a work prepared by students from Grenada entitled, "Hidden Details: The Power of Service". The video began by asking the question "Who are the people who have power in this world?" This was followed by a series of head-shots of famous people - politicians, performers, heads of major corporations, and the like. What the video argued was that although these people seem like the powerful ones, from the perspective of daily life it is really those who serve who have authentic power. As they described it, "that work that is done with affection, sacrifice, and care... which make possible the real functioning of the world and that could be a chain of constant service."

Hailing from Valladolid, the stand "Chocolate ART: Making Tangible What is Intangible" took the prize for Best Stand. As a way to recognize their accomplishment, these girls got to enjoy an interactive session at MADE Creative Bakery, held the following day. Located on the Via dei Coronari in downtown Rome, Made Bakery is dedicated to applying creative ideas and going beyond the average when it comes to providing the dessert of a special occasion. They offer a service whereby customers can enjoy custom-made treats based on the people they have in mind who they know will be enjoying them. The co-founders and co-owners of MADE - Francesca Tolina and Laura Freda - shared their story, experiences, and most successful creations with the girls in an exciting hands-on session on Wednesday.

After enjoying a rather enriching morning, Tuesday's afternoon session featured three invited speakers. From Colombia, Ximena Campos Garcia spoke from her experience managing customer service at several major airlines and businesses in her country. She started by saying she was encouraged by the exchange of ideas of the morning session and by the work done by those who presented projects at Incontro, because they had hit on some fundamental points that she wanted to highlight. Campos asserted that, unfortunately, the ideal of authentic service is not at the foundation of many businesses that should be valuing it. She invited the girls to reflect further on what it really means to serve - to know how to respond to people's needs - and what this has to do with professionalism. After elaborating on this ideal, Campos explained that none of this was possible without virtues and values. Virtues - especially fortitude, generosity, understanding, justice and loyalty, as well as the capacity to forgive and thank others - are indispensable qualities of the person who wants to serve; nevertheless, the challenge is that many people don't consider these virtues as part of education, nor do they see that forming consciences is part of forming people who can be good workers in society: people of integrity who truly know how to serve the others.

Campos' presentation was followed up by a talk by Maria del Carmen Bernal. Hailing from Mexico and also sharing a business background, Bernal agreed with Campos that businesses need to do a better job of focusing on the person. She proposed that women specifically have a role to play in this regard, and that fortunately many companies are starting to realize the special contribution that women can make in the workplace. On the one hand - proposed Bernal - what we need is a work culture of excellence - that is, one that values details, creativity, and innovation; on the other hand, since businesses are meant to be at the service of society, the working world has to recognize that employees are at the same time also members of families, and that companies have a certain level of responsibility to ensure that families can function and flourish. Bernal identified areas in which companies could improve in these respects, allowing for people to live the authentic service that had been discussed throughout the Congress.

Last but certainly not least, Dr. Abel Albino provided the grand finale to the day's events. Albino is the founder of CONIN (Cooperation for Infant Nutrition) an organization based in Argentina that fights malnutrition by providing care, education, and services to those families and children in need of help. Albino asserted that we have to live our lives passionately, and we have to love. "What is it that makes a person great?" he asked the crowd. "Love!" Sharing with the girls a little bit more about CONIN, Albino explained that a human being's first year of life is crucial in terms of proper human development, saying "a child's brain is preserved in that first year of life." This is because the amount of first-year brain growth is proportionally much greater than that which takes place later on, which consequentially means that when a child suffers malnutrition during that first year, it is nearly impossible for them to develop normally afterward. Albino helped the girls reflect on the larger implications of these facts, saying that, "the principal resource any country possesses is its human capital." If a country's human capital is malnourished, it cannot even begin to approach building a vibrant society. Meanwhile, the situation throughout Latin America (and many other countries as well) is that many dwell in inhumane living conditions, although in principle everyone has the right to an authentically dignified life. Albino shared with the girls his conviction that "there is only one race - the race of the children of God." He agreed with Campos and Bernal that while people like to talk about "values", what we need to speak more about are virtues, including an authentic patriotism that looks to see how one can serve one's country. He invited the girls to take action, so that these conversations wouldn't remain at the level of a nice ideal, but something lived - something tangible. 

The day concluded with a video introducing the theme for next year's Incontro Romano Congress, which is "The Power of Service: Empathy in Teamwork". We will be posting the video soon, so that you can start gearing up for another enriching Incontro Romano in the year to come!  


Congratulations to the 2014 Incontro Romano Winners for Best Paper, Best Video and Best Stand!

Best Video: Hidden Details - The Power of Serving (Granada, Spain) presented by Rosa Martinez, Carmen Pilar Roríguez, Julia Montiel, Marta Salas, Magdalena Garrigosa

Best Stand: Chocolate Art (Valladolid, Spain) presented by Verónica Rey Bernal, Laura Junquera, Paula Pérez, Beatriz Salvador

Best Paper: The Power of Serving - Convert Intangible to Tangible (Macao) presented by Lou Xin Lin, Tang Xiao Min, Peng Lu Yi, Wang Chao, Chen Yiqun

Check it out! Incontro Romano 2014 Round Table Participants


Abel Albino

Dr. Abel Albino

Dr. Abel Albino was born in 1946 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 1972 he graduated with the title of medical doctor from the University of Tucumán. The following year he traveled to the Republic of Chile, in order to specialize in pediatrics - it was there that his interest in infant malnutrition took root. In 1987 Albino received his doctorate in medicine from the National University of Cuyo. After some time, in 1992, he moved to Spain to study Molecular Biology at the University of Navarre. During that experience, Albino was profoundly and sadly struck by the contrast between Europe and Argentina. He decided to return to his country in order to serve the weak, and especially malnourished children. It was in this way that the CONIN (Cooperation for Infant Nutrition) Foundation was born in 1993. The efforts and work developed by CONIN have receved numerous distinctions on the international level. To this day, Albino continues working for CONIN in order to confront the problem of poverty and malnutrition.


Dr. María del Carmen Bernal

Licensed in pedagogy at the Panamerican University in 1989, Dr. Bernal received her doctorate (with honors) from the University of Navarre. Some years later she attended Program of Perfecting Managerial Direction D1, at IPADE Business School, Mexico, where she now works as director of the Research Center for Women in Senior Management. From there she promotes research of topics related to women working in senior management positions.


Ximena Campos

Ximena Campos García received her degree in Industrial Engineering from the Catholic University of Colombia, in Bogota, the same city in which she earned an MBA at the INALDE Business School and, upon graduation, began working as manager of Customer Service at Avianca Airlines. She has wide-ranging experience and knowledge of the concept and application of service after having worked for the leading airlines and businesses of her country. She is currently the director of the Program for Managing Service Institutions at the University of Sabana.


Also check out some of the preparations for Incontro Romano 2014 going on all around the world!